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I would like to contact a Professor to ask if he might be interested in my research project. I can find his email contact and also the contact of his secretary from his personal website. I would like to write him directly, since I am not asking for something bureaucratic. Do you think am I right?

  • Trying to schedule a short appointment via his secretary might be worthwhile, if you are confident enough to have an in-depth discussion about your proposal. However, I'd be hesitant to do this if you're expecting the professor to also provide funding. – Moriarty Nov 10 '14 at 11:41
  • Professors still have "secretaries"? – JeffE Nov 10 '14 at 15:34
  • My co-supervisor, the director of a 200-strong research institute, has a secretary. I presume his secretary also has other duties. Donald Knuth also has a secretary. I suspect that any prof important enough to have a secretary (there aren't many!) will probably be far too busy to pay much attention to an email from an unknown person, unless it is jaw-droppingly brilliant. – Moriarty Nov 10 '14 at 22:13
  • @moriarty I think JeffE's "secretaries" comment had to do with the fact that the word "secretary" is becoming somewhat outdated in the US, where the term "Administrative Assistant" is currently more common. – cabad Nov 14 '14 at 17:09
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If a professor has posted their email publicly online, then it is an invitation to contact them directly on technical matters. In my experience, very few professors are unwilling to be contacted directly, and those who are unwilling typically clearly state who is the appropriate alternate contact person on their personal website (the institution may, of course, still list them in their directory).

You might not, however, get any reply. Just because somebody is willing to be contacted doesn't mean they'll respond to everybody who does so. If you don't get a response within a few days, then contact the secretary instead, and if you still don't get a response, then it is best to assume disinterest and move on.

  • It should also be mentioned that professors are typically very busy and might be interested and willing to reply but if they didn't find the time to do so right away lots of income email might quickly pile up on top of yours. When I was last applying for a job I sent an email to a guy I wanted to work with, with no answer whatsoever so I assumed disinterest. The guy sent me an email almost 2 months later saying he was really interested in my application but I had already found something else. One doesn't know when a second email won't be welcomed but it might be worth trying sometimes. – Miguel Nov 10 '14 at 21:33

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